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Published April 15th 2014

How To Use Social Analytics To Improve Marketing Performance

Big data is very much in vogue these days and social media networks are some of the largest sources of big data. There are literally billions of posts, interactions and shares which you can analyze. Buried in this social data are insights that can help you improve your marketing and give you the competitive edge. However, where do you start, what is relevant for your business? I wanted to take a practical look at how you can use social analytics to gain insights and improve your performance. To this end I have included expert tips from people working in social media and marketing

What Do We Want To Achieve And Hence What Should We Measure?

It can be costly and take a lot of time to analyze social data, so what are the benefits we are looking to achieve. Ultimately we want to use analytics to improve our social media marketing performance, this might include:

●    Improving audience reach (e.g. increasing followers, amplification of content to more people)

●    Positive feedback and praise (eg plus ones and sharing, which is a form of endorsement)

●    More engagement in conversations

●    Better understanding of our target audience

●    Converting people to customers (the key metric)

●    Doing better than our competitors

These objectives start to define the social data we need to analyze. This social data falls into three types namely:

●  Your own social data: how well are you doing and what can you learn

●  Your competitors’ social data: how well are they doing and what can you learn from them

●  Wider social data: what resonates with the target audience and what are the trends

Based on your analysis of what works you can build a social playbook, in essence a set of plays that based on your data drives the most engagement and conversions. This playbook should be a source of competitive edge, allowing you to move from data to insights to actionable tasks or plays.

1) Your Own Social Data Analytics

The easiest place to start is analyzing your own social media data. From this analysis you can work out what works best for you in terms of driving engagement and conversions. You can then develop for your social playbook examples of best practice. In simple terms find your strongest performing content, understand why it worked and make it easy for your teams to replicate it.

When reviewing your own social data you need to cover the following areas.

Reach (direct and amplified)

Reach is a combination of your own followers and the followers of the people that share your content, the people that amplify your content. Follower analysis is a reasonably straightforward task, you can use various tools to assess the number of followers on the different social networks and you can start to analyze the nature of these followers such as by region, by job role and by gender. Are your followers the followers you want, are they potential buyers and influencers. Tools like TwitonomyTwtrland and Followerwonk work well for Twitter and CirclecountCircloscope and Steady Demand work well for Google Plus. With these tools you track spikes in the number of your followers and assess what caused these increases.

In Google Plus you can use Ripples to see how a post was shared more widely and who helped amplify it. Unfortunately it is less straightforward to review who is sharing your content across all networks and to assess the degree of amplification. In BuzzSumo we have introduced a feature that allows you to see who has shared your content. You can start by doing a domain search for your content in BuzzSumo and then viewing sharers for each article. This allows you to then analyze the people that shared your content and their reach.

Our research shows, not surprisingly, a direct correlation between content shares and the number of influencers that share the content.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 16.58.20.png

Positive feedback

Each network has its own way to allow people to promote or like content such as likes, plus ones, favorites and thumbs up on blogs. These built-in mechanisms are relatively easy to measure.

What is more valuable are positive comments or sentiment. Many of the monitoring tools recognize this and will keep track of positive sentiment. Thus tools such as BrandwatchBottlenose and others will provide you with data on sentiment and allow you to drill into this.

Content shares

Shares are are arguably more powerful than likes as the person is resharing the content to a wider audience. This can happen on some networks with a like or plus one depending upon personal settings but sharing is a powerful endorsement. On your own site you may have share buttons and counters so that you can see for an individual content item how it has been shared. It is much harder to see across all content and who shared the content. This is where you can use BuzzSumo. Just type in your domain and you will get the most shared content on your site. For any individual article you can click ‘view sharers’ to see who shared it.


This is the direct engagement you have with people on social networks. It is harder to analyze but you can see the number of posts that receive comments and drill down into these discussions. As a general rule conversations and comments are good indicators of engagement.

In fact, comments positively impact the engagement rates on all social media platforms, which in turn grows the reach of your content. That’s why it’s crucial to maintain high levels of conversations under your post. There’s one smart trick that will help you double the number of comments under your ads, and that's replying to every comment (which also happens to speak well for your brand). Use a social media engagement tool to make sure that you’re not missing any comment in the multitude of notifications.


This is arguably the most important aspect to review to assess how well you are doing. A large number of followers is a vanity metric if it doesn’t lead to conversions. You can track clicks through from your links in your social posts as a starting point and with tools such as Oktopost you can monitor clicks through to landing pages and form completions. You can take things a lot further with Google analytics. You can track conversions based on traffic from social networks. You can define conversions relevant to your site such as a purchase or completed an enquiry form. In your CRM you can also track lead sources of conversions.

Summarizing your own social data

True Social Metrics is one tool that will help you pull all this data and analysis together. You can connect your various social pages and also connect your account to your Google Analytics to track conversions or economic value. Below is a sample report.


Whilst averages are important, more important in my view are the actual figures for each post. True Social Metrics gives you this data and identifies your best posts which you can re-sort as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 15.49.38.png

Thus using True Social Metrics will give you a great starting point. However, I would suggest you aim to create a more detailed spreadsheet with the following data for your best posts:


Creating this spreadsheet will give you a great starting point in understanding and evidencing what works for you currently.

2) Analyzing Competitor Social Data

The analysis of your own social data is only one part of the story. Your competitors may actually be performing better than you, so analyze their performance. I think there are two areas to focus on in the absence of conversion data which are engagement and share data.

The good news is that a lot of the data is freely available. You can use free tools for example to review their Twitter or Google Plus performance. You can use tools like Twitonomy, Steady Demand or many others. Below is an example of a report from Twitonomy for Social Media Today and who they engage with.


With BuzzSumo’s advanced features, currently in beta, you can see the networks where a competitor gets most of their shares. In the case of Social Media Today the most productive network is Twitter and the content formats that get most shares are infographics and list posts as seen below.


In terms of timing I can also look at the total shares by the day an article was published. Monday is the best performing day for Social Media Today though interestingly the weekends still perform quite well.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 16.12.22.png

You also need to get behind the detail to look at individual posts and with the current version of BuzzSumo you can review their most shared content and who shared it. Simply type in their domain and search for their most shared posts in the last month. Below are the most shared SMT posts in the last month (nice to see one of my own at number 3).

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 16.02.12.png

You can take this analysis further to see who shared the content by clicking view sharers.

Hopefully, this will form of analysis will help you understand what is working for your competitors and identify where they perform better than you and why? You can then assess what can you do to improve your performance such as:

  • Put more focus on a different network
  • Use different content formats
  • Publish on different days
  • Reaching out to influencers

3) Analyzing Industry and Topic Data – Find What Works in your Area

The third form of social analytics data to review is for your industry or topic as a whole. From the analysis of your own social data and that of your competitors you will already have a good view on what networks are most used, which influencers amplify in these networks and the types of content that get traction. However, you also need to look at the wider picture.

You can undertake a Topsy search to see what is being discussed in your topic area on Twitter or use other tools to do this across multiple networks such as Brandwatch, Zuum or Bottlenose. You can also use a BuzzSumo search to find the most shared content for any topic areas across all social networks. This will help you understand what type of content and posts resonate with the audience.

You also need to pay attention to general trends and assess if they apply to your industry. For example, researchers for the NY Times discovered longer articles were more likely to be emailed than shorter articles. This is consistent with our own research at BuzzSumo which has found a direct correlation between the number of shares and the length of the article as shown below.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 16.39.25.png

Maybe this opens up an opportunity to produce longer form content. There is also a lot of other general research on timings, frequency and content formats. For example, our research at BuzzSumo has found across all industries infographics perform best in terms of shares.

However, whilst you should be aware of these findings you should not blindly follow them but rather assess whether they apply to your industry.

Build your Social Playbook to Gain a Competitive Edge

Once you understand what works, based on hard data from these three areas of analysis, you can build a Social Playbook, by which I mean a set of best practice examples or plays which are proven to improve your performance.

For example, based on your evidence you can craft examples of posts that are more likely to get maximum engagement and a set of rules or guidelines for your teams to follow.

Steady Demand is a case in point, they analyzed hundreds of thousands of Google Plus posts and demonstrated that posts with three elements (of a certain content length, mentioned people and used a hashtag) consistently outperformed other posts. Below is a live example from their site.


Thus to gain maximum engagement on Google Plus you might be advised to include these three elements.

You need to build a set of plays that work for you in your area. These will address such things as timing and frequency, content formats on certain networks and key influencers on specific networks to engage with. I think it is also useful to build exemplar posts which act as guides for each of the main networks. What better way to onboard a new member of your team than to show them what works. This is not to rule out experimentation but just to ensure the playbook is based on evidence from your social analytics.

Andrew Darling, Director of Global Marketing at TBG, believes harnessing data from social media is now a key task and “being able to gain insight from this data is becoming a secret weapon for marketers.” I agree completely with this assessment. Social analytics can provide insights which you can translate into guidelines and action to give you the competitive edge in your marketing.

Social Analytics Tips from the Experts

I was keen to make this post practical so I reviewed some of the best posts in this area and asked some of the experts in the field for their tips.

David Somerville, Head of Social Media at Fresh Egg sets out three key analytics tasks:

“Ensure you measure the effectiveness of each individual post you make (via each platform), so you can see what is working and what’s not. Measure the engagement levels (likes, shares, favourites etc) for each post then look for any patterns – for example, do your photos always get better engagement, what hashtags are working etc.”

“Ensure your goals are set-up correctly within Google Analytics to track your conversions. By tracking your macro conversions (sales) and micro conversions (email sign-ups, information requests etc) then you can better report on how social media referral traffic is contributing to conversions on site, both last click and attributed ones.”

“Use event tracking on your on-site active and passive social media buttons, so you can then measure their usage within Google Analytics. This is especially useful if you want to test the placement of active social media buttons on a page or see how many people are visiting your site and then going to your social media networks.”

Joseph Parker, Senior Media Outreach Specialist at Digital Relevance believes “the key to successful social campaigns is the research that goes into verifying that those you connect with represent the audience that are likely to convert. Define ‘conversion’ at the onset, and use that as your guide.” Joseph also recommends you use Google Analytics as an “outline” for defining conversions that can be tracked.

Joseph adds once you find key influencers have a good look at who they are following. This could lead you to similar individuals who wield more influence. Joe recommends tool such as Socialbro and Followerwonk to analyze your current Twitter followers and your targeted followers.

Leo Widrich co-founder and COO at Buffer provided a really useful tip in a recent post when he pointed out that almost any report inside Google Analytics can be created as an email report and sent to you in a variety of forms—csv, excel, pdf. He receives his in the form of pdfs. To create an email report just click the Email button near the top of your desired report. The button should be immediately below the report name and next to buttons for exporting and adding reports to your dashboard.

Robin Colner, a digital marketing professional at Digistar Media has pointed out the importance of being able to track links in your posts. “Capturing data on the activity associated with links shared by use of a link shortener is one of the most important data sets to analyze.”

Jennita Sable Lopez from Moz outlined in a post recently on how they analyse their social performance. Using various tools they grab data from various channels and collate this into a spreadsheet as follows.


Mari Smith, a Facebook marketing expert, recently shared her advice on the 5 key metrics to assess in relation to Facebook posts namely:

●     Frequency: How frequently you post both daily and weekly

●     Timing: What days you post and what times

●     Content type: Articles, videos, images, questions or lists

●     Length: Check what length works for your posts

●     Tags: Do certain tags drive more engagement and conversions

Jeff Riddall at gShiftlabs advises you to look at wider trends beyond your content to know what the customer is looking for across the spectrum – search, local, mobile and social. He advises you to “identify and focus on keywords and content for which you already have momentum – then create optimized content based on these first.” Testing keyword performance and conducting keyword research (including via social channels) regularly is key in his view. I particularly liked Jeff’s advice to “build a rhythm of execution”, it is not about a one-off exercise.

Lauren Mikov, social media consultant and fellow SMT contributor advises you to back up your analytics with in-person data (if that is relevant to the business.) “Often I find that people get so hung up on their data that they forget to track conversions ‘IRL.’ It can be awkward at first to ask “how did you find us?” on the phone or in person, but it can quickly become a habit and give you a concrete way to measure the success of your social campaigns.”

Valentin Boulan at Tamar UK believes in analyzing which social channel is driving most traffic, conversions and revenue to your site, and identifying the strengths and weaknesses for each channel (which is best to drive traffic, organise new competitions, promote new product, etc.)

His advice is to “find who your most active social media followers are – only 4.7% of your following is what drive 100% of your social referrals.”


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